Armando Salguero

'Swiss Army knife' Fitzpatrick is multiple. And is chasing multiple rings

Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama walks among fans after being picked #11 overall by the Miami Dolphins during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.
Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama walks among fans after being picked #11 overall by the Miami Dolphins during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. Getty Images

Minkah Fitzpatrick, wearing a white suit appropriate enough for South Beach, sat down in front of a microphone and three brilliant championship rings won at the University of Alabama were impossible to miss on his hands. He wore one ring on his left ring finger, another on his left index finger, and another on his right index finger.

And he wants more.

"I'm trying to fill the rest of those fingers up," Fitzpatrick said flashing a big smile.

Yeah, well, bring it on young man. Fill those fingers with Dolphins title rings because there's been something of a drought in South Florida winning championship jewelry lately. And one reason for that is the Dolphins defense has failed doing some things you, Mr. Fitzpatrick, are supposed to be expert at doing.

"I'm an athlete so you can put me in a couple of different spots and I can adjust with my different techniques," Fitzpatrick said. "After that, my football IQ ... allowed me to move around and be a chess piece as you would say or a Swiss Army knife, as you would say."

This move is universally respected around the NFL. No one is saying the Dolphins over-reached. No one is saying the Dolphins got it wrong. I got a text from three — not one, but three — NFL personnel men after Miami's pick. And all of them thought the Dolphins got a good player.

All of them were impressed by Fitzpatrick's "versatility and ability to be multiple."

And therein lies the a major point of this pick: For this to be a hit then we need to be finished hearing about guys like Julian Edelman lighting up the Dolphins defense.

If this move is a home run, you may even see the Dolphins not entirely freaked out in the future about how to handle otherwise impossible match ups against tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce.

The Patriots, by the way, drafted versatile Sony Michel toward the end of the first round Thursday. If Gronk is missing anytime the Dolphins play New England in the future, then the Patriots new do-everything back must be erased by Miami's do-everything defensive back.

All of this is riding on this Dolphins selection of Minkah Fitzpatrick.

If the Alabama safety is going to be worth the investment the team just made, then he needs to be the solution to all those worrisome matchups in the middle of the field the Dolphins haven't been able to overcome in the past. That's the reason for this pick.

The Dolphins drafted this "Swiss Army knife" to close a huge hole in the defense we've seen for years. That hole was obvious when, for example, Oakland tight end Jared Cook lit up the Miami defense for eight catches and 126 yards last year. That's not supposed to happen any more.

"He's going to be a safety," Grier said. "His skill set and the things he does ... He's like a Swiss Army knife. He does a lot of things really good. He gives your defense a chance to be flexible and do a lot of different."

Grier saw Fitzpatrick cover receivers in the slot at Alabama. He believes Fitzpatrick can cover tight ends because, "personally me, I think it's easier to cover a tight end than it is receivers. There are very few tight end tight ends that give you a tougher match up — obviously Gronkowski and Kelce.

"But [Fitzpatrick] is a 6-foot, 205-pound guy that runs 4.45, can run and cover and he's been a good cover guy. It's a unique skill set at that position and his history of producing turnovers is very good."

About that: Fitzpatrick had nine interceptions the past three seasons. He had six in 2016 alone. Last year the Dolphins safety combo of Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald combined for three interceptions and eight passes defensed.

That tells you something was amiss and that either Jones or McDonald are playing out of position.

And it's not Reshad Jones. He remains an excellent player and playmaker in the box as a strong safety.

Last year the Dolphins signed McDonald and then curiously gave him a contract extension before he'd played even one regular-season down. The Dolphins had seen plenty (they thought) in training camp. They figured McDonald and Jones would be a good duo. They were not.

So although everyone is going to compete, the more likely combination in 2018 would be Jones and Fitzpatrick on early downs with the rookie at free safety in the base defense and picking up Gronk or Kelce or Dion Lewis or whoever frightens defensive coordinator Matt Burke on passing downs.

And, of course, If this is move is going to be a success we better not be back next year or for a couple of years trying to find another safety that can cover like we were Thursday night in re-doing the move the Dolphins did last September with McDonald.

Listening to Fitzpatrick talk, he doesn't seem worried any of this is going to be a problem.

"My dream wasn't to just make it to the NFL," he said, "it was to be great in the NFL."

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero
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